The day has finally come. NDSU softball will, at last, play a game on their home field, Tharaldson Park, in 2023. After 42 games across 11 different cities, the Bison will take on their rival from the north, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks on Saturday, April 29.
“It feels good because it’s been such a long time,” NDSU Head Coach Darren Mueller revealed. “It’s almost been a year since we played on our field. I think just the fact that we’re not traveling is a good thing because it’s just been a long stretch.”
The Bison were originally scheduled to play at home on April 7th and 8th against South Dakota, but the weather forced that game to be relocated. April 29th will mark the latest start to the home schedule in program history ahead of 4/28 openers in 2009 and 2018. Oddly enough, UND has played more games (5) at Tharaldson Park than NDSU has due to the Hawks’ field being unplayable, something Coach Mueller said even he has never run across before.
Nonetheless, the Bison are back at home and can avoid those long bus trips and hotel beds for the next few weeks.
“We were joking the other day with our coach, she was like, ‘Do you guys need to take a bus from the SHAC to the field,’ just because we’re so used to getting off the bus and then going and playing right away,” Bison pitcher Lainey Lyle recalled. “We definitely have an advantage playing at home just because we don’t have to travel and stay in the hotel, and we get to sleep in our own bed. I think everyone’s really excited for that.”
This weekend, Lyle will look to carry her recent success which includes 37 straight innings pitched without allowing an earned run into this weekend’s series. The senior pitched very well last year against the Hawks, going 1-0 in two starts, pitching 10.1 innings with a 2.71 ERA and 14 strikeouts. While the Hawks have struggled this year with a record of 8-35, Lyle and the Bison still treat every team the same.
“Every school we play in our conference is our rival,” Lyle stated. “We don’t treat anyone really differently. We want to win every game no matter who we’re playing.”
After her off-season back surgery, it took a while for Lyle to get comfortable. However, Lyle says this is her first season at NDSU where she’s pitched with no pain whatsoever. That has been beneficial as she’s not allowed an earned run in league play and owns a stellar 2.46 ERA for the season. Lyle, and her teammate, Paige Vargas, complement each other very well despite their unique styles.
“We complement each other really well,” Lyle claimed. “She gets a lot more strikeouts. I kind of go to trying to spin it as much as I can. But it definitely works well because when I come in after her, I think it’s hard for teams to adjust just because we are so different.”
Lyle also mentioned how much easier it is to pitch when the offense is hitting well. That has certainly been the case of late and she can especially thank her leadoff and cleanup hitters Emilee Buringa and Bella Dean.
Buringa, NDSU’s lone returning starting outfielder from last season, had a terrific series in what was a homecoming for her last weekend. The St. Charles, Minn. native went 5-9 with a home run and 4 RBIs over the course of the series. Through league play, Buringa is hitting .318 with five extra-base hits, is hitting .345 in the last 20 games, and has not committed an error in centerfield.
“Taking it one pitch at a time is something that I’ve really been focusing on, and I think I’ve been able to be more successful at that lately,” Buringa said. “I’ve been working with our coaching staff, Kayti Grable, our assistant hitting coach, she’s done a great job of working with us and helping us work through bats and to be more successful on the field.”
As for Dean, she has been on a tear herself. The freshman currently leads all Summit League players in home runs on the season with eight and has a .326 batting average and .761 slugging percentage. Dean also says the transfer from high school to Division I has been much easier than she expected and has gained a lot of confidence from her teammates.
“That confidence comes from the upperclassmen and the team hyping me up,” Dean said of the support she has received. “Giving me that support. Giving me that reassurance that I’m doing good, I’m doing what I have to do.”
While the Sherrard, Ill. native has spent most of the season at first base, she has now taken on a new role. Less than a month ago, starting shortstop Anjolee Aguilar-Beaucage went down with an injury but has stayed in the lineup as the Bison’s DP. Filling that spot as the captain of the infield has been Dean, who is no stranger to the position.
“I used to play shortstop in high school and travel,” Dean conveyed. “I played almost everywhere on the infield in travel. Wherever you put me I’ll do my job. Short is my favorite position but anywhere is fun.”
The Bison are currently 26-16 on the season and 10-5 in the Summit League placing them just 0.5 game behind Omaha for second. Heading into this series, the Bison are confident, much of which is about returning home.
“I think we’re feeling good,” Buringa said assuredly. “I think we’re really excited to be able to play at home. Just to be able to play in front of our own fans and on our own field will be really good. I think that’s a good place to be at the end of the season.”
The Bison will kick off play on Saturday, April 29, at Tharaldson Park with a doubleheader starting at noon. The series will then be completed on Sunday starting at 11 a.m. Admission for NDSU students is free with a valid student ID. Saturday’s game will be broadcast statewide on WDAY Xtra. Games one and three of the series will also be on Bison 1660 AM/92.7 FM.
“They understand the types of things that we have to get to,” Mueller stated of his team. “Everybody brings a little different thing and now it’s just fine-tuning it together at the end of the year. We’re capable but we still have room to grow.”